Quiet and unassuming, Leonard Parker's brilliance often pales beside other personalities in the world of physics. While many will quickly relate Stephen Hawking to the ground-breaking work of quantum physics and its revolutionary effect on how we understand our universe, Parker's work still lies in the shadows of awareness for most of us.
Despite the fact that contemplating the inner recesses of the universe occupies an inordinate amount of time and energy for this genius, Dr. Parker also has another passion: faith. After his mother died in 1985 Parker seemed to rediscover his religious roots. His Jewish faith deepened in the years following. According to Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Sunday, Aug. 19), Parker "began attending daily services to recite the Kaddish prayer for his mother." Yet, how did this meticulous scientist reconcile faith and reason, which drove so many of his waking hours?
"While he found that faith and physics sometimes conflict (modern cosmology puts the age of the universe far older than many religions would have it), Parker let the two coexist. As he saw it, separate areas of the brain drive our passions for science and religion. The two need not be forced to compete."
"The physicist who joined two theories of nature saw no contradiction in maintaining this wall between science and religion. It would be foolish to bring the scientific method of experimenting and observation into a house of worship. Nor would it make sense to test a theory of the universe by chanting a prayer."
Yet, need there be such a split between faith and science? From a modern point of view letting faith inform science seems archaic and unenlightened. So scientists are forced either to abandon one and embrace the other, or to live a schizophrenic existence between science and faith.
Still, science, for all its attention to objective fact, is nevertheless an arena of unknowns. Faith, as it is grounded in the foundation of an inspired scripture, can inform us of the unknowns. However, one must trust in the source of that scripture and the verity of its message. Here the intrinsic doubt of science competes with faith. Parker has taken the road that seems easiest. The hard questions are never breached. Faith is never challenged. Whole sources of information are discounted out of hand. But then is this really faith? And can one find hope in such a divided existence where God is left just out of hand's reach?